Live Streaming Services and Privacy Concerns: What You Need to Know


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How can individuals and organizations use livestreaming to benefit local communities and the public? How can they be sure the information is reaching the widest, most diverse audience? These are just a few of the questions that motivated us to conduct a research study of some of the innovative ways organizations are using social media and mobile technologies to remove barriers to public information and participation.

Privacy Concerns with Live Streaming Services

An incident involving a known streamer is recounted, in which a viewer was able to uncover the streamer’s personal information and used social engineering to gain control of the streamer’s PayPal account, arranging a chargeback of all donations received during a given time period.

Leakage and tracking are more or less certain to result in unauthorized access to personal information, if not widespread identity theft. Chances of this happening tend to increase relative to the popularity of a service. Live streaming services may also become a target of attack by cyber-criminals due to the monetary value of stored personal information, donation revenue often collected by streamers, and the potential to defame a streamer or their fan base through identity theft or acts of harassment posing as the streamer.

An example provided by a member of a security research team shows how the most dominant live streaming application platform was found to contain a 3rd party ad SDK with vulnerabilities allowing remote SQL injection and data leakage from end user devices. In this particular incident, it was verified that personal information was in fact being leaked from users’ devices and a transparency report was requested from the app creator regarding how the leaked data was handled.

From the very moment one begins using a live streaming service, data collection and tracking will commence. IP addresses will be logged, and some form of personal information will have to be given upon registering an account, such as an email address. With game console and smartphone apps, it is likely that personal information stored in these devices will be acquired by the app, in order to serve advertisements targeted to the application user. This is troublesome because in the case of many free applications, advertisement revenue is a chief way these services can remain operational.

Live streaming services are readily available through numerous apps, which can be accessed via smartphone, tablet, game console, laptop/desktop computers, bringing further concern regarding security of these devices.

Before one can refer to the many privacy issues involving live streaming, one must understand exactly what live streaming is. Live streaming is a form of video that is not stored and can be accessed by viewers in real-time as it happens. Live streamers are able to engage their audience by way of a chat window and can respond to questions and comments about their stream.

Data privacy and security have been hot topics among internet users for many years. The continuous increase of digital data collection and surveillance has prompted many to question the privacy and security of their personal information when using online services. It is no different with live streaming services, where the possible risks and loss of privacy are substantial.

Data Collection and Tracking

Finally, because live streams are in real-time, there exists a greater potential risk of user data being intercepted as it is transmitted to alternate locations. This can leave data in a more vulnerable state and more easily obtained by unwarranted third parties.

Live stream services are often used in conjunction with other forms of social media and it is not uncommon practice for a user to use the same, or a similar screen name or title for each site. This increases the chance of a user’s live stream data becoming linked with data from another source, making the user more easily identifiable. Usually, user data may pass through many different server locations in various parts of the world, and it can be difficult to determine the location of the server and who has access to the data. This makes it hard to trace and protect the privacy of user data.

Data privacy is a significant cause for concern when it comes to the utilization of live streaming services. It often involves the use of personal computers or other internet access devices that are vulnerable to security breaches. These breaches may involve the unauthorized monitoring of a user’s Internet Protocol address or the use of malware to gain access to a user’s personal files. IP addresses can be used to locate a user’s approximate geographical location, which can be recorded and used for marketing purposes. Malware presents a direct threat to the integrity of a user’s computer files and can be used to obtain sensitive data on an individual without their knowledge.

Unauthorized Access to Personal Information

If the personal information that is recorded or live-streamed is regarding an identifiable individual, it will be considered ‘personal information’ and will be protected under the Privacy Act 1993. The Privacy Act 1993 helps to protect your privacy rights and sets out 12 privacy principles that must be followed by organizations in New Zealand. An agency that collects personal information about an individual must ensure that the information is not collected in a manner that is unfair or intrudes upon that person’s personal affairs. It must also take reasonable steps to ensure that the information is not collected from an unauthorized source, is accurate, up to date and complete, and is not readily available to others who are not authorized to access it. Live streaming services are often situated in organizations that are overseas and do not have a physical presence in New Zealand, thus they are not required to comply with New Zealand privacy laws. This makes it difficult to protect personal information when using live streaming services, and little can be done if privacy rights are violated.

Live streaming services have the power to access the microphone and camera of the user, which can capture and broadcast any personal information or conversations that are revealed in the vicinity of the device. In a recent investigation, it was found that a game called “iSSy” was unknowingly live streaming while children were using it. This is because both the microphone and camera had to be used for the game to work, and no notification was given to the user that the app was live streaming. The iSSy app has raised serious privacy concerns with the Privacy Commissioner, who is taking the matter up with the app’s creators, GiggleUp Kids Apps. This highlights the concerns that privacy breaches of this nature can occur without the user’s knowledge and may potentially be broadcasting highly personal or sensitive information. Even if not live-streamed, the inherent broadcast to the internet and storage of personal videos on a server creates the potential for personal videos to fall into the wrong hands and be exposed on the internet in the future.

Risks of Cyberbullying and Harassment

Cyberbullying and harassment have the potential to be some of the greatest detriments to one’s mental and emotional well-being during and after the live streaming process. While all forms of social media and public internet forums have the potential to expose individuals to forms of bullying, the nature of live streaming escalates the potential for damage to greater heights. Streaming brings real-time, person-to-person contact between streamer and viewer. While this can be positive in many cases, it can lead to detrimental results in the settings of malice. If a streamer has a history of conflict with certain individuals, it is not uncommon for said individual to organize group attacks on the streamer while he or she is live. Trolling is also a common issue in live streaming, where individuals will make numerous accounts with the intent to harass or disrupt a stream. Worst of all, however, is that real-time contact opens doors to hate speech and verbal abuse. This can come in the form of offenders singling out the victim for verbal assault during a stream or discussing the victim in a negative manner while he or she is not present. They may even go as far as to stage an event or situation with the intent of finding and exposing the streamer to public humiliation. Perhaps the greatest issue is that cyberbullying and harassment are instances in which content control does little to deter future events or erase event occurrence from the data-scape. Victims of cyberbullying often have to cease their streaming operations and, in severe cases, take legal action to have content removed and assailants prosecuted.

Steps to Protect Your Privacy

First and foremost, anyone looking to protect their privacy while using a live streaming service should review and adjust privacy settings on the accounts they will be using for streaming, as well as any other social media type accounts. This should be done to limit who can view your profiles and content. Also, many services have privacy settings that allow users to approve viewers before they can participate in viewing content or keep certain viewers from being able to view the stream at all. These settings can be especially useful for those who would like to limit the audience of their stream to a small group or to keep certain individuals from seeing the content of their stream. Remember, however, that while privacy settings can help to prevent unwanted viewers from tuning in to streams, they do not provide complete protection. The best practice when streaming content you would like to keep private is to simply not make it available to the public.

3.1. Review and Adjust Privacy Settings

“It is important to take advantage of privacy settings – choose appropriate and strong settings. Never assume anything is private, but having restrictive settings can help prevent sharing information with the wrong people. Always be aware of what your default privacy settings are; sometimes private information will be shared using default settings.” This is the best piece of advice that I have found. Too often, people simply do not take the effort to change privacy settings or it is assumed that applying to a site means that one’s privacy would automatically be protected. With any sort of social networking service, this is definitely not the case.

Just about every app or service has many different privacy settings. Privacy settings determine what information is shared and who is able to view it. Privacy settings range from profile settings to application settings. For example, “Google” has a universal account setting that allows users to specify what information is disclosed when they are using a given application. Usually, a user is given a choice of what information to disclose and to whom, although not always. Be sure to read descriptions of settings and where they might be shared; sometimes sharing information with friends may mean something different than sharing information with everyone. Change settings when needed, for example, when a new contact is added to the friends list or on a special occasion.

Be Mindful of What You Share

Social media platforms are packed with features and functions that make sharing simple. Live streaming users frequently take advantage of features that enable viewers to learn about their location, work, or other personal details. Remember that the internet is a public network. Even if your social media accounts are set to private, there is still a possibility that viewers can download, record, or capture your stream and share it with others who were not intended to view the content. Your stream is also subject to capture by a variety of third-party websites and other applications. The best practice is to assume that anything you broadcast could become public knowledge. This may mean adjusting your sharing habits or making adjustments to your social media content. When sharing and giving detailed live updates, be conscious of the potential consequences. For example, consider a company that conducts live training sessions for its employees. During the session, the trainer speaks openly about weaknesses and security flaws within the company. Such details should never be shared in a public forum and can seriously damage the reputation and security of the company and its clients. In any situation, if the content is information that you would not want disseminated beyond its intended audience, a live stream may not be the best method of sharing.

Use Secure and Private Networks

This is a tried and true method to keep your data safe and secure. By ensuring the networks you connect to are secure, you greatly decrease the risk of potential data breaches and leaks. A secure network is one that is password protected, and preferably one that you are paying to use. Free public Wi-Fi is not secure as there is no way to control who uses the network, and a lot of the time these free networks do not require any form of login, password, or personal information, making your presence on it completely anonymous. If you are to use public Wi-Fi to stream, using a VPN is the best way to ensure your data safety. A VPN or a Virtual Private Network forms a private network across a public network. This enables you to send and receive data across the public network as if your device is directly connected to the private network. VPNs are easy to use and are becoming cheaper, with some services being available for as low as $3 a month.

Regularly Update and Secure Your Devices

The overall maintenance of device security may seem time-consuming to some; however, it is much less taxing than the recovery from a serious privacy breach. A study conducted on behalf of Consumer Reports in the US, UK, and Japan reported that 1 in 10 US smartphone users had personal information stolen. Of the victims, 43% took no action towards protecting their privacy in the future. Even if you develop a preference for using certain apps, keep your options open for alternatives if the privacy and security options are not satisfactory. The status of which apps provide the best protection for privacy is subject to change. By keeping the app market competitive in terms of privacy, you will contribute to an overall improvement of privacy options.

Devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and computers, should be updated and secured in order to protect your privacy. Updates to software, apps, and operating systems often include improved security features. Of the devices, smartphones may require the most frequent attention in terms of updates and security. BlackBerry has long been regarded as the most secure smartphone, with others following behind. Recently, however, Apple invested $356 million to improve iPhone security by partnering with security experts, iSec Partners Inc. Google’s Android, in comparison, is considered less secure due to its open-source platform. As a result, users of Android smartphones are more vulnerable to privacy breaches. Consult the privacy and security settings for each app that you download. They may offer options to limit sharing of your information. Back up your stored information on a regular basis.

It can be concluded from the reviewed literature that while there is no established convention around education video quality, educators have clear views on the relative importance of the various video components. There is a need to develop guidelines to direct educators in creating video resources and for producers to tailor services and products to faculty needs. The researcher has submitted a set of these guidelines to the Flexible Learning and Media Development Directorate at RMIT University for use in educational development for RMIT teaching staff. The results of this review also highlight an obvious shortfall in pedagogical use of video and an opportunity for development. As such, designers of educational video resources should consult with lecturers to better understand the material and the teaching approach. While repurposed TV broadcast programs are a viable resource, careful design of video resources specifically for education is likely to provide the greatest learning benefit for students.

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